a confession

It’s not that easy, Jack. You have to be sincerely sorry and resolve not to sin again, to be absolved of sin. I’m not convinced that you are sincerely sorry….”


by brian doyle


Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Tell me about it.

It has been, ah, it has been, well, it’s been a long time, to tell you the truth.

A few years?

Less than twenty.

(dryly) Glad to have you back.

I used to be here every week, you know. I was a confession nut. Had nothing to confess then, though.

Speaking of confession, what would you like to confess?

I wouldn’t like to confess anything, actually. But I think I should.

You do.

I do.


Being shriven of sins, that sort of thing. You know.

And your sins would be…?

I covet my neighbor’s wife. Well, we’re not really neighbors, but he lives nearby. They live nearby. He and the wife. I’m a little nervous here.

That’s a serious sin, you know. More than people think.

Yeh, I know. I feel badly about it.

How badly?

About half-bad. Half-badly, I mean. Is that a word, half-badly?

To be forgiven you must feel remorse.

Well, I do feel badly about him. He’s a good guy.

And about her?

Well, about her I feel … covetous.

Have you acted on your desires?

Ah … yes.

More than once?

(Pause) You mean each time more than once?

(Pause) No.

(Pause) I think I answered your question.

You did.

So, te absolve, how about it?

It’s not that easy, Jack. You have to be sincerely sorry and resolve not to sin again, to be absolved of sin. I’m not convinced that you are sincerely sorry.

Well, I’m sincerely sorry for him. He’s got the depression thing too, you know. The black dog. And he’s got a bad back. Jesus, a bad back is an awful thing. No matter what you do, there it is, like a knife in your spine.

Jack, for her you feel no sorrow? For luring this woman into a state of mortal sin, no feeling at all?

Hey, I didn’t lure her. She had her high beams on, my friend.

So you’re not at fault.

I don’t think it’s my fault, no. You know Darlene. She’d dance with you if you could.

Okay. Let’s get back to basics. Are you sorry for your sins?

(Pause) I’m sorry I hurt Mike.

That’s all?

I’m sorry I got sucked into this, to tell you the truth. It stinks. We meet in motels and two seconds after I’m done I feel like a heel. But I keep going back.

Where do you meet?

At the Day-Glo.

Aw, c’mon. That’s tacky. That’s bad novel stuff.

Can’t afford the Comfort Inn.

Jesus, Jack. On esthetic grounds alone you should break this off. The Day-Glo. Jesus.

It’s not that easy.


Well, for one thing, I paid in advance.

You’re running a tab at an hourly motel?

You get a 20 percent break if you book in advance. Thirty if you book more than a month.

How far in advance are you booked?

(Pause) Three months.

Three months. Jesus, Jack. That’s embarrassing. The Day-Glo.

Uh – could we get back to the confession thing here? I got things to do.


Don’t say shit in the confessional.

Okay. Listen, Jack – you have to stop. You know you want to. That’s why you and I are here.

I know.

You only get the one life, Jack.

I know. But I’m tired. I don’t care much anymore about right and wrong, you know? I don’t mean to be rude or flippant, but I just don’t. I just want to get by with a little jolt here and there.

(Pause.) It’s a dark joy.


Joyless. And cold. That’s not what we’re here for.

It’s not hurting anybody. And I’m so tired of thinking about what I’m supposed to do. I just want to do whatever I want to do. I’m awful tired.

Me, too, Jack. Me too.

Bad days, huh? Even for priests?

Yeh, even for priests. Especially for priests. The nights are worse.

Yeah, but you know you’re on the right side, you’re God’s boy.

Am I?

Aren’t you?

I doubt it.

Hello? You’re not sure of all this?


So why are you telling me I’m sinning?

Because you’re sinning.

How are there sins if there’s no God?

Who said there’s no God?

You did.

Fucking lie.

You just said you’re not sure.

I’m not sure.

So what am I doing here then?

Trying to shuck your sins. Trying to shuck off the cold dark mean little things you do and are. That’s why people come in here. That’s why I am here. I don’t have any magical powers. And this has nothing to do with whether there’s a God or not. Who cares? This has to do with you knowing full well what’s clean and true and what’s the Day-Glo.

If you’re not sure there’s a God, why are you a priest?

I love being a priest. I love it because it’s really hard and it doesn’t make any sense. Therefore it’s great. Like being married. Doing really hard things that don’t make the slightest sense is what human beings are all about.

Jesus, Pete, I’m all confused here.

I believe in God, most days. It’s harder at night. It’s hardest when I think of all the pain and sadness. It’s hardest when I think of kids, kids being beat up, kids getting worse things done to them, the worst things. Hard to believe there’s a God sometimes when I see evil nose to nose, and I see evil nose to nose a lot, and it’s evil with a fucking capital E, too. And it’s lonely being a priest, and I got a heart murmur, and my balls ache, and here and there I have a second really big glass of whiskey and go to bed with my head swimming, and I eat too much, and I get real tired of the same people staring at me night after night in that bad swimming-pool light in the church basement in meeting after meeting of the fucking this or that committee on fucking this or that. I get tired of it. It gets to be a job. It is a job.


Can’t. Made a promise.

But if you hate it, why not bag it? You only get the one life. You just said that to me.

You’re not with me, here, Jack. I made a promise. You make a promise, you stick with it. Not because you promise someone else but because if you don’t keep your promises there’s no real you. You’re just another liar. There’s plenty of liars but not too many real guys. And who knows anything about women, you know? Not me.

(Pause.) Okay.

Okay what?

Okay, I’m done with, you know, what I was doing.




Because I’m done.

Is that enough of a reason?

What are you, a chick? I’m done. Believe it.

Okay. I believe it.


Alright then.

(Pause.) Look, somehow you believing me is what I need to believe me, which I don’t understand, but thanks.

You’re welcome.

Let’s get a beer.

You owe me.

Fucking lie. You owe me like eight beers.

I got two words for you: Day Glo.

(Pause). Okay. Beer’s on me.


Okay. But then you owe me seven beers. You can’t snake out on beers you owe a guy. A guy who snakes on what he owes another guy – that’s low.

Good point.

Fucking right.



Let’s go.

(They go.)


Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Five
February 2005


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2005)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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